by – Sushmita
Shootouts and encounters are on a rise in Uttar Pradesh (UP) under the leadership of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath with the government portraying encounters as a badge of honour. Official data released by the State of Uttar Pradesh (UP) indicates that there have been 1142 police encounters since the time (10 months) the government came into power. The number of people killed in encounters is slightly less than half of those arrested (2744). Thirty-four ‘criminals’ have died in these shootouts while 265 injured. 1853 persons arrested had a reward attached to them.
The highest numbers of encounters were reported in Meerut zone with 449 encounters. Followed by Agra zone with 210 encounters. Bareilly was third on the list with 196 encounters. The draconian National Security Act (NSA) has also been slapped against as many as 167 ‘criminals’
The Chief Minister had earlier said that the police will have full freedom to deal with rising crime rates in the state and asked criminals to either surrender or leave the state. In no time, ‘Operation Clean’ was launched.
Criticising state action, Samajwadi party spokesperson, Rajendra Chaudhary said, “CM Yogi had warned the criminals but instead, crime has risen in the state. This is just government propaganda to hide their failure to crime control. This is a smokescreen created by the BJP but on the contrary, the crime graph is rising. Law and order situation has gone out of the hand.”
As per NDTV, the team which ‘successfully’ executes such encounters is incentivised with an amount of Rs. 1 lakh. The new UP Police Chief, O.P. Singh said in an interview to Economic Times, “We are not trigger-happy people. Our approach to criminals is clear – surrender or get arrested. If you fire, we will fire in self-defence. This is a police crackdown.”
The NCRB data released for 2016 indicated that highest number of crimes were committed in Uttar Pradesh and accounted for 9.5% of total IPC crime reported in the country with a consistent increase in rate of violence of crimes against women and murder. Having a bad record in crime does not bode well since the UP government is planning its first investors’ summit on February 21, 22 in Lucknow. What does the government do then? It flaunts the report card of being ‘hard on crime’ with the number of encounters rising exponentially compared to any other time in the past. This is a double edged sword. On one side the majority community can be appeased, as the proportion of persons from minority background and backward castes and classes killed is much more, on the other investors are happy on the ease of doing business.
The Ethics of ‘Encounter’ Killings
Some would argue, what is wrong in going hard on crime and criminals? Everything. Crimes originate in any geographical space as a result of growing inequality and structural issues. Delinquents are present in every society but merely those delinquents do not form the core of the crime scene of a place. Promoting a culture of encounters is tantamount to promoting a culture of lawlessness and unaccountability.
The term ‘encounter’ as a construct is itself problematic, suggesting as it does a specific type of police contact – a spontaneous, unplanned ‘shoot- out’ between the police and alleged criminals, in which the criminal is usually killed, with few or no police injuries (Human Rights Watch 2009). In legal terms this is, or these are, extra-judicial killings, killings without any observance of any due process. That they have received the kind of sanction within the force(s) and also among India’s middle class and chatterati is reflective of the values all around.
A research study (Belur 2007) found out that police officers usually perceived a social consensus supporting police use of deadly force to eliminate ‘criminals’ despite questions and counter-claims by activists, media and political opposition about their legality in some cases. Notably, the police remains immune from official, legal or public scrutiny in most cases. Though there is a ‘free press’ and a criminal justice system that demands accountability, explanation is required when the police uses such force, possibly with political and public approval. The same study explains the reasons for police violence, including sociological, structural, organizational and sub-cultural and individual and situational (Green and Ward 2004)
Ease of doing Business?
In this case, a tacit political approval and in fact an initiative by the Uttar Pradesh government has given a free hand to the police to go ahead with encounter killings. Here, we need to come back to the ‘ease of doing business.’ And more specifically, the Investors’ summit to be held in February. Most states, in the name of ease of doing business, usually eliminate the indigenous population by either displacing them almost entirely or by creating an environment of fear and terror. States like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand deploy this tactic on a regular basis.
Following suit is the Government of Uttar Pradesh. The investors’ summit is scheduled to happen in February 21, 22, 2018. To this end, Chief Minister Yogi already met the likes of Mukesh Ambani (Reliance group), Ratan Tata (Tata Group), Subhash Chandra (Essel), Ashok Hinduja (Hinduja Group), Shekhar Bajaj, Arvind Lalbhai (Arvind Mills), Sudhir Mehta (Torrent), Madhusudan Agrawal (Ajanta Pharma), N Chandrashekharan (Tata Sons) Pawan Goenka (Mahendra&Mahendra), Deepak Parekh (HDFC) etc in December 2017. It is important for the UP government that it appears ‘hassle-free’ when investors think of setting up big corporations in the state.
In countries like India, where encounters have the public sanction of the media and common people, as the ‘police is supposed to exert force’, to hear the news of encounter is not uncommon at all. However, their frequency in UP is alarming to say the least. It seems hardly likely, as the police forces have been claiming, that all these encounters took place in self-defence. It also seems unlikely that after featuring in the top charts of crime records for years, the state of UP has suddenly woken up to the spate of crimes taking place. Also, it goes without saying that any state seriously concerned about curbing the rate of crime, won’t itself mindlessly indulge in encounters and shoot-outs rather than looking at more reformative and liberating modes of engagement with criminals. But the UP state is unlike any other. Here encounters are being shown as a sign of progress. Any society in a correct human rights and democratic framework would have seen it as shameful that in order to control crime they have to resort to killing their own. And most importantly, killing those who were yet to be proven guilty.
To borrow from Reiner, Indian citizens almost fetishise the police- the idea that police is indispensable in the absence of meaningful public discourse.